What do you look for in a neighborhood restaurant? For Julia Zhu (formerly Oysy Sushi) who is the managing partner of Bar Roma, it's got to be a place where you feel at home with good food and good friends gathered together in a fun, comfortable atmosphere.
Because that's the vibe that Zhu has created at Bar Roma (5101 N. Clark) in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. The restaurant that opened a little over two years ago offers more than food, it offers a memorable experience.
From the moment you step inside the 102 year old building, you feel a warm welcome. The building reflects the neighborhood by keeping the best of the old from the rustic Italian decor's original flooring and brick walls to adding the the touches we all need to function in today's world including lots of outlets to charge your laptops and smartphones.
Upon entering a long wooden bar to the left and communal tables on the right greet you. The place was already buzzing before 6 pm. on the Thursday we visited..
The bar area, backed by an inviting wine cellar, is the place to go for drinks and snacks from the bar menu.
For a more upscale dining adventure, head to the adjoining dining room (pictured above) that features a mix of banquet and table seating where you can select from chef Fred Ramos' extensive menu featuring house made pasta, seafood and wood-fired dishes highlighting the cuisine of Rome, Italy. The divided bar area and dining room work beautifully managing to cater to both those visitors who want something light to eat and drink in the bar area to patrons who want a multi-course meal in the dining room.
Ramos' house-made pastas defy description. You really need to taste them. We ordered the Cacio E Pepe ($17) which sounded pretty much like a basic spaghetti and butter dish--according to its description on the menu--that read, "Spaghetti pasta, pecorino and fresh cracked tri-color pepper-- What we got was something that I am still craving.
So what is this simple dish and what makes it so incredible? The secret may just be the bucatini--a spaghetti like pasta that is a bit thicker than typical spaghetti but has a little hole that runs all the way through the noodle. It also has something to do with the pasta being house made and the way it is seasoned.
We ordered the Gnocchi Di Patate ($24) that features hand rolled gnocchi, scallops, wild mushrooms and truffle sauce--an awesome comfort food on a cold night and oh, those balls--the Polpette. Another outstanding preparation is Ramos' Cioppino ($25)--a delicious seafood dish--with Mediterranean sea bass, shrimp, scallops, mussels, potatoes, tomato and white wine broth.
The menu has a whole section dedicated to "The Balls" outlining five different types. The "global" ball selections include a veal-sweetbread with a marsala cream sauce; a Swedish beef ball; a perfectly spiced pork belly meatball flavored with ginger; a chicken variety and a veggie option featuring lentils, spinach and mushrooms. For $1 more add an fried egg to any of the polpette.
Bar Roma’s meatballs come three large balls to an order at a budget-friendly price ranging from $8 for the pork belly and chicken to $12 for the Vendura. They also offer a "balls" to go case near the exit door where you can purchase your favorites to bring home.
If you have room for dessert, I highly recommend the Tiramisu.
Hearty, traditional Italian cooking is the specialty at this rustic-chic Andersonville spot also offering craft cocktails and wines, weekday happy-hour specials and a late-night bar menu in a warm, wood and brick space with an open kitchen beneath Italian signs translating to ‘eat’, ‘drink’, 'play' and ‘love.’
Just what you want in a neighborhood restaurant.
Filed under: Chicago restaurants